We recovered last time because we have the greatest fans in the world.
>> Gary Bettman, speaking Thursday morning about another potential NHL lockout
If the NHL locks out its players on Sept. 15, it will be the third such lockout in 17 years. It will be the third lockout in Gary Bettman's 19 year tenure as commissioner of the NHL -- or, perhaps more aptly, the mouthpiece for the NHL's Board of Governors and their 30 team owners.
The NHL is not afraid of another lockout. In fact, it's probably going to happen and there's a really solid chance that the 2012-13 NHL schedule is shortened (or, God forbid, canceled) because of it. Bettman and Co. are willing to push these CBA talks far to the brink because they're not afraid of using the lockout as a bargaining chip.
They're not afraid of you or I leaving. Bettman essentially challenged us on that point today in front of the entire hockey world. And he's completely, 100 percent right. We're not going anywhere, and that means the owners can do whatever they please.
From a financial standpoint, it all makes sense for the owners. They want more money, and if they hold out long enough, the players will have to cave. Minor league options in North America won't pay their bills and overseas options like the Swedish Elite League are already beginning to dry up. Claude Giroux said last month that he's actually afraid of playing in the KHL -- you really can't blame him for that -- and I'm sure plenty of other non-Russian players feel the same way.
Simply put, the owners have a lot more money than the players both collectively and individually. They can afford to wait and the players by-and-large cannot.
No matter how united they may be and no matter how strong they are in comparison to 2004-05, the NHLPA will reach a breaking point and cave to some if not all of the league's demands. It's just a matter of time and the owners know this. In the meantime, they aren't afraid to lose hockey games if it means they're getting more of the players' share in the end.
It doesn't matter that the owners are bargaining from an awfully greedy, even seemingly vindictive position. And make no doubt about it: That's exactly what they're doing. A quick reminder of what the owners have asked of the players in these negotiations:
- An immediate 24 percent roll back in current salaries.
- A 15 percent rollback in the players' share of hockey-related revenue (from the current 57 percent share the players receive to the 43 percent share the owners' proposed).
- Forcing players to wait 10 years before reaching unrestricted free agency.
- The elimination of salary arbitration.
- Extending team-friendly, player-unfriendly entry-level deals to five years ...
- ... while also placing the maximum term limit on any other contract at five years.
Now, imagine you're a player. You gave up a 24 percent rollback in salaries seven years ago, and since that 2004-05 CBA agreement was reached, you've been a part of a league that's experienced record growth every single year. Bettman and the owners have said they aren't willing to play another season under the agreement that facilitated that growth. Not without you giving up more.
Yeah, there are still problems in the league -- the serious income disparity between rich and poor clubs is at the top of the list -- but you've given up enough. It should be on the owners to figure out how to spread those record revenues amongst themselves via revenue sharing. And beyond the entire revenue split issue, the owners are also asking for a roll back of literally every other luxury you have as a player.
You sacrificed last time. Why should you do it again?
Greed isn't a strong enough word for the position the owners have taken in these CBA talks this summer. But the worst part about it isn't necessarily the greed. NHLPA chief Donald Fehr even expressed Thursday that it's completely natural for employers to seek the chance to pay their employees less money. The worst part is that they're doing it because they know they can. They're not going to lose money via a lockout. Maybe they will in the interim, but not long-term. Not once they get their way in these negotiations.
Once the negotiations end and the owners have sucked even more money from the players, we'll be there for Games No. 1 and 2 and 3 and beyond. Some casual fans may leave and never return, but the season ticket holders and diehards and blog readers will all be back. I'd challenge one person who follows the NHL or the Flyers on a daily basis to try to stay away when the NHL resumes post-2012 lockout.
The owners were right in 2004-05. We needed a salary cap to keep the league from collapsing, and they were right to hold out for one. Afterwards, we came back. In record numbers, actually. Not right away, but we came back and the league has never been healthier. Seven years of record revenues, right?
This time around, the owners are bargaining from a position of greed. They're not even trying to feign some semblance of "partnership" with the players this time around. They simply want to maximize profits and they don't care about losing a few silly hockey games to do so.
When they get their way, they'll patronize us with some adorable blue writing on the ice again, and they'll probably even leave it there for an entire season as a constant reminder of how they dicked us over with their greed. But we'll be back. We'll buy tickets and we'll watch the playoffs in record numbers. We're not going anywhere, and everybody knows it.
We might be the greatest fans in the sports world, but we're the greatest enablers in the sports world, too.